Michigan voters have rejected constitutional conventions since the 1970s
In 2026, voters will be asked again whether there should be a constitutional convention
Every 16 years, Michigan state government is required to ask voters, on the November ballot, if they want another constitutional convention.
Michiganders have had three opportunities to vote on this question since the last convention in 1962. In 1978, 1994, and 2010 voters said no. They will face this question again in 2026. If they do approve a convention, it would open the document up to being rewritten.
It’s interesting to see how political parties and special interest groups have responded to this ballot question over the years. Their position may change, depending on the political power structure at the time.
We will delve into what a convention could look like in future stories. They will answer important questions about the Michigan Constitution, and readers will have the opportunity to ask their own. Today’s question is, “Why did voters reject a convention?"
Voters answered the ballot question in 2010 with a resounding no. The vote count was 989,019 in favor of a convention, with 1,960,573 — almost twice as many votes — rejecting the opportunity.
The Battle Creek Enquirer reported the question “faced a daunting array of interest groups.” The paper said political rivals feared their opponents would seize control of the convention and “turn the new document into a feeding frenzy.” In other words, both sides feared the other would make substantial and harmful changes.
The Detroit Free Press editorial board supported a convention. It thought the constitutional process for nominating and voting on Michigan Supreme Court justices was ridiculous and that a convention could change this. The editors bemoaned that candidates were nominated by political parties, but then party labels were stripped when the candidates appeared on the ballot.
The Free Press also called for streamlining the Michigan Legislature on the grounds that legislators would never make changes the state needed. It cited a “confusing mess” of current constitutional taxes and a need to prune layers of local government.
The Lansing State Journal, however, opposed the idea of a convention. “Throwing out our constitution and starting anew would send a clear signal to businesses that Michigan doesn’t have its act together and isn’t ripe for investment.”
The Journal reported that a coalition, including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan AFL-CIO, and the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, also opposed a convention. The groups cited the cost of the convention, estimated at $45 million. Critics argued the convention would have “handcuffed governor Rick Snyder and the new state legislature for two years while the new constitution was written.”
In 1994, voters also rejected a convention, when 777,779 citizens supported cracking open the constitution and 2,008,070 rejected the idea. The Times Herald reported that the Macomb County Taxpayers Association was against a convention because it argued, “The liberal left wing wants to get rid of the Headlee Amendment. That’s the first thing the Lansing lawmakers would want to do.”
The Citizens Research Council says the Headlee Amendment, which voters approved as a constitutional amendment in 1978, “requires voter approval before local governments can levy new taxes or increase existing tax rates, but taxes authorized prior to adoption of the amendment do not require voter approval.”
The Headlee Amendment was one example of an amendment that was added without a constitutional convention. Future stories will look at others.
One reason the question lost, according to the Battle Creek Enquirer reported, was that people feared a convention would be controlled by special interest groups, including those wanting abortion restrictions, the death penalty, or a one-house Legislature.
In 1978 voters voted against a new convention, perhaps because the 1962 one was not that old. The 1978 vote saw 2,112,549 people against a convention and 640,286 in favor of one.
Jamie A. Hope is assistant managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email her at email@example.com.
Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.